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Whitstable Town FC: Kent League Attendances 1946-1959

Article Produced in Conjunction with Ian Johnson

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Foreword & Acknowledgements

  

Sadly, we have very little evidence of attendances at the Belmont during the 1950s but we do know some and can look elsewhere to get a feel for the general popularity of the Kent League. At this point, I would like to thank Justin Allen at the Dover Athletic FC web site ( http://www.doverathletic.com ) and  Jeff Trice at the Margate FC History web site ( http://www.margatefchistory.co.uk ) for allowing me to extract and analyse match and attendance records from their archives. 

  

Belmont Attendance Record - 1957?

  

The official ground record was set at the Belmont on 19 October 1957 for an FA Cup Third Qualifying Round match...

   

Whitstable  v Gravesend & Northfleet Att: 2,500

  
It came at the end of the Reds' best FA Cup run of the Golden Era and it all started down at Athenian League club Maidstone United in an Extra Preliminary Round which they won 3-1. 

As you will see see from our Programme Collection page, the team progressed to a local derby encounter with Canterbury City in the First Qualifying Round. A 2-2 draw at the Belmont was followed by a thumping 5-1 victory at Bretts Sports ground (Wincheap). In the Second Qualifying Round, the Reds defeated Betteshanger Colliery Welfare 2-0 and brought Southern League Gravesend to the North Kent coast during October. 

Ian Johnson describes the events of that epic Gravesend clash in his article "The Record Attendance: Whitstable  v Gravesend - 1957 " . Ian also mentions another titanic encounter that attracted massive interest.....

 

Another Big Belmont Crowd - 1950/51

   

In looking at that Gravesend match, Ian unearthed information about another big Belmont attendance..... for a Kent Amateur Cup Semi-Final against Bromley during the 1950/51 season. The crowd was also given as 2,500. However, as Ian remarks in his article, there may have been some rounding up or rounding down of the figures!

John Wraight also has memories of that Bromley match and recalls another figure for the attendance.....

 

One cup game was a home match against Bromley which we lost 3-0. I thought that the attendance for that game was 3000.

John Wraight

  

Certainly, there appears to be a bit of confusion. Some years ago, I also came across a reference to a 3000 plus attendance for the game. However, I have been unable to retrace that source. It may be that it was a misquote which was later corrected and reduced to 2,500. John has another possible explanation....

  

Maybe the missing 500 were up the tree on the dyke behind the corner flag with me!

John Wraight

  

Whatever the situation, we are probably safe in saying that the Bromley encounter was the biggest attendance for a wholly amateur match at Belmont!

Some people may be surprised that a humble Kent Amateur Cup match could attract such interest. However, as explained on our Introduction page, amateur football was very influential in non-league circles. Whilst the Kent League mixed semi-pro and amateurs, the higher competitions did not. Bromley played in the prestigious Athenian amateur league and their visit to The Belmont would have been as eagerly awaited as that of semi-pro Gravesend some six years later.

Bizarrely, an entrance ticket for the match recently came under the hammer at Graham Budd Auctions as part of a collection of Bromley FC memorabilia. The collection sold for 750. I wonder what the ticket cost back in 1951?    

   

League Attendances involving the Reds

   

Cup encounters weren't the only matches to bring crowds to the Belmont. We know that there were substantial  attendances for games against top teams in the league. Over 1000 spectators attended a home match against Dover in 1956. Whitstable lost that game 0-1. 

Away matches could be daunting prospects. Whitstable's first league visit to Margate on 6 January 1951 generated an attendance of 2,716.... and a 6-1 defeat! As the Reds improved, they became more of an attraction. On the 18 August 1951, the same fixture was watched by a crowd of 3,200 and Town came away with a hard earned 0-0 draw. 

Even when the Reds ageing team was on the decline, away fixtures against top opposition still created quite an atmosphere. For example, on 17 November 1956, Whitstable sank to a 0-1 defeat at Dover in front of 1,743 spectators. 

Other clubs around the county were attracting massive crowds for local fixtures and many "all time" attendance records can be traced back to the Golden Era of Kent League days. Let's take a look.

  

The Kent Senior Cup

   

Unlike today, knock out cup competitions were always held in great esteem and such matches attracted the largest crowds. To date, the biggest we have come across was a staggering 13,000 "gate" for a Kent Senior Cup final played at Gillingham's Priestfield stadium in 1952....

  

Kent Senior Cup Final - 14 April 1952

Dover...... 2 Dartford..... 0

  Att: 13,119

    

That was the year that Dover won the Kent League and their team proved too strong for their Southern League opponents. The attendance remains the largest number of spectators ever to watch a fixture involving Dover. Their semi-final match in 1952 also attracted a big crowd - 8000 for a 3-2 victory over Bromley. 

A Kent cup tie attracted the largest ever attendance at Folkestone's Cheriton Road ground. That came in 1958 for an East Kent coast derby game against Margate....

  

Folkestone Town.... v.... Margate

  Att: 7,801

  

In 1951, a Kent Senior Shield semi-final set a ground record of  5000 at Deal Town FC's Charles Sports Ground. 

  

The FA Cup

   

The powerful Kent League clubs progressed deep into the rounds of the FA Cup competition and set up money-spinning encounters with Football League Clubs. Ashford Town's ground record was set in 1958 when they met Crystal Palace....

  

FA Cup First Round Proper  - 1958/59

Ashford Town.... 0  Crystal Palace.... 1

  Att: 6,525

  

However, it didn't need a Football League team or even the First Round Proper to generate interest. One of the biggest attendances for a Dover v Folkestone derby game came in 1951.... for an FA Cup Qualifier....

  

FA Cup Second Qualifying Round - 13 October 1951

Dover.... 0  Folkestone Town.... 2

  Att: 7,000

 

Even more remarkable was the scene in 1949 when Kent's miners poured into Dover for a FIRST round qualifier and generated an attendance of 7,261. Unfortunately, they didn't get the result that they so desperately wanted.....  

  

FA Cup First Qualifying Round - 1 October 1949

Dover.... 2  Snowdown Colliery Welfare... 0

  Att: 7,261

   

The League Attendances

  

Large crowds also flocked to league games involving the top clubs..... particularly when local derby encounters were involved. For example, in the early-to-mid 1950s, league games between Dover and Folkestone regularly attracted gates between of 5000 and 6000 plus. 

It was a similar story elsewhere. In 1955, a ground record was established at Ramsgate's Southwood Stadium when 5,083 people squeezed onto the terracing for a battle with Isle of Thanet neighbours Margate. The game ended in a 4-0 triumph for the Rams.

The intense rivalry also extended further afield with big crowds at other games around Kent clubs. In the absence of detailed records, we rely on records of Dover's away matches  to get a feel for some of the top attendances....

    

2/10/48 FA Cup 1st Qual Round Sheppey... 2 Dover... 4 Att: 3,600
18/8/51 Kent League Div 1  Deal Town... 2 Dover... 2 Att: 4,200
27/10/51 Kent League Div 1  Margate... 1 Dover... 3 Att: 3,750
8/9/51 Kent League Div 1 Snowdown CW... 3  Dover... 3 Att: 4,000
20/10/51 Kent League Div 1 Ashford Town... 0 Dover... 2 Att: 3,216
2/2/52 Kent  League Div 1 Betteshanger CW... 1 Dover... 5 Att: 2,000+
27/8/52 Kent League Div 1  Sittingbourne... 5 Dover... 2 Att: 3,800
17/9/55 Kent League Div 1  Bexleyheath.... 3 Dover... 1 Att: 3,000

Details drawn from the Dover Athletic FC web site at http://www.doverathletic.com  

   

Canterbury City's Bretts Sports Ground witnessed it's biggest ever attendance in October 1948 when the club entertained Dover in a Kent League fixture....

    

Kent League - 9 October 1948

Canterbury City..... 0 Dover..... 3

  Att: 4,998

  

The Bretts Sports ground was owned by local company Bretts Ltd and it was the home of "City" until 1958 when the club moved to a brand new stadium at Kingsmead. Sadly, Kingsmead has since been demolished leaving the club in the wilderness.

   

The Reserves Too...

   

During the late 1940s and the early 1950s, money was in short supply amongst the working classes and travel was difficult. Few people owned cars and, in a war ravaged county, public transport was still recovering. Thus, many football supporters stayed within their home areas.... to watch their reserve teams.

Whilst Whitstable Reserves attracted no more than a few hundred for their home matches, attendances at some clubs were quite staggering. Just take a look at these figures plucked from the Dover Athletic FC web site.....

   

Kent League Cup (Reserves):  23 February 1952
Dover Reserves..... 3 Folkestone Reserves.... 0 Att: 3,000 
Kent League Cup Final (Reserves):  26 April 1952
Dover Reserves..... 3 Margate Reserves.... 2 Att: 4,000+ 
Kent League Division 2:  21 March 1953
Dover Reserves 1 Faversham Town Reserves 2 Att: 2,300
Kent Intermediate Cup Semi-Final:  10 April 1954
Dover Reserves..... 1 Folkestone Reserves.... 1 Att: 2,500 

Details drawn from the Dover Athletic FC web site at
http://www.doverathletic.com  

   

A Kent League Division 2 trip to Dover must have been a daunting prospect for youngsters playing in the Whitstable Reserves side. One week they were performing in front of 150 spectators at the Belmont.... and, the next, they were facing an encounter like this....

   

Kent Intermediate Cup Round 3: 20 March 1954
Dover Reserves..... 6 Whitstable Reserves.... 2 Att: 1,872 
Information from the Dover Athletic FC web site at http://www.doverathletic.com  

    

Most Kent League Division 1 clubs entered reserve teams in Division 2. However, the second division also contained clubs that were making their way up in Kent footballing circles. In fact, Whitstable's first team progressed to senior status by winning the Division 2 championship during the 1949/50 season.

Herne Bay followed a similar path. They joined Division 2 in the autumn of 1953 and the first match at their new Winch's Field ground was watched by more than 1000 supporters.... for an encounter with Tunbridge Wells Reserves!  Bay eventually gained promotion to the Kent League Division 1 in 1957.

  

... And The MOST Amazing?

  

I have been amazed by some of the figures discussed above. However, I have saved the MOST amazing until last..... and it wasn't, by any means, the biggest. It cropped up on 23 August 1952 when a crowd of over 2000 turned up at the Crabble Ground in Dover..... for a pre-season trial!!!!! 

They say that Liverpool supporters of the new Millennium will pay to watch the grass grow at Anfield. Well, back in the early 1950s, the people of our county would pay to see similar feats.... at the Crabble (Dover).... Hartsdown Park (Margate).... and Cheriton Road (Folkestone). 

That's what made it the true "Golden Era of Kent Football"!

  


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